Stoking the Backlash Against #metoo

backlash2Forbes has a new article entitled How To Resist The Backlash Against #MeToo. I’m going to comment on how the author gets men’s reaction to #metoo almost entirely wrong, and in doing so, makes statements that will encourage exactly the behavior she is concerned about.

We’re already seeing men asking questions along the lines of, “Now I’m afraid to even talk to women. Does this mean no more office parties? No more friendly compliments? With so much hassle, wouldn’t it just be easier to not hire women at all?” It’s frustrating how quickly the discussion turned from a frank assessment of the daily harassment and assault women are subject to into a question of whether women belong in the workplace period.

I would say frightening rather than frustrating.

Our openness about harassment and mistreatment has been weaponized against us; rather than honestly look at their conduct, many men would rather simply remove women from positions where professional respect and courtesy are required.

Wrong. It is not men’s conduct that is leading to the fear, but the fact that the definition of harassment and mistreatment is so vague and the punishment for having even an unproven allegation made against one is so dire. No reasonable man thinks that rape is OK. The vast majority would agree that sexually harassing a woman is wrong. But allegations of conduct far milder (e.g. making an unwanted sexual advance or a joke in poor taste) can have equally severe consequences.

In short, the question is whether the glass ceiling should be lowered and thickened with another few panes, all because women dared to speak out and call for a workplace free from sexual harassment.

Wrong again. It’s because some perceive that false allegations have been weaponized to force men out of the workplace. When we hear women calling for people to–for example–only elect women to office, we see a power grab, not a legitimate attempt to reduce sexual harassment.

There can be no justification for using this as an excuse to keep women out of the workplace.

If valuable employees are being forced out using smear tactics, this is going to hurt companies. That is justification for keeping those who make false accusations out of the workplace. As long as people who point out that allegations need to be backed up with evidence are being smeared as a misogynist “backlash”, don’t be surprised when they decide they don’t want you. I see a few woman (Sheryl Sandberg, for example) calling for moderation, but far to many are still calling for us to blindly “listen and believe”.

It takes a special kind of myopia to hear the horrific tales of abuse and harassment that have been leveled at people like Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and Louis CK over the past few months and come away from it thinking “well, then I don’t know how to work with women at all! Maybe I’m harassing them and don’t even know it! It’d probably just be better to avoid them entirely.”

Bullshit. No man is thinking this. They–some at least–are thinking “if anyone can be fired because an allegation is brought against them, even if they are innocent, I better make sure I do everything I can to minimize the risk of that happening to me.” This is a completely rational reaction.

But that strategy – isolating women “for their own good” – has the secondary effect of cutting them off from valuable leadership training, mentorship benefits, and other opportunities to perform and excel. It’s also an absurd reaction to a simple request to treat women like you would any other human being you work with.

Again, bullshit. It is not a reaction to a simple request to treat women reasonably. It is a reaction to the risk of being fired due to a false accusation. If you don’t want to put such opportunities at risk, you need to remove the risk to men. Women need to support policies that require evidence and investigation. Until they do, men will rightly take care to avoid situations that could lead to allegations against them.

But that’s what happens when you act as if the problem isn’t the harassment but the complaints, and this entire discussion is predicated on that assumption; not that there’s a cultural problem that needs fixing, but that women are themselves the cause in what may in fact be the most egregious example of systemic victim-blaming I’ve ever personally witnessed. Your job isn’t to reduce complaints; it’s to foster a healthier environment so your employees can feel safe and respected and focus on their work.

I don’t believe that this is a cultural problem, at least not in high tech. There are individuals who abuse their power. There should be a reasonable way to deal with them that involves evidence and is not subject to abuse. Not everyone who brings an allegation is a victim. If you deny that fact, you won’t convince anyone, and you certain won’t make us “feel safe”.

[Segregating women] “to protect their virtue” or some such isn’t only regressive, it’s a shirking of your responsibility to create a working environment that isn’t actively hostile to a massive part of your team.

No one is talking about segregating women. What does seem likely is that some men will be biased against hiring women. Personally, I want to have the best people on my team. I’ve hired a fair number of women over the years, and I believe that in every case, we were hiring the person we believed to be the best person for the job. I would hate to see us lose what could be a part of the best team due to fear of false accusations.

Remember that safe spaces are self-created and self-policed; shunting off the women at your company into their own departmental structure isn’t a safe space as much as it’s a ghetto. And as, historically, the work women do is undervalued, this kind of “protection” will do little more than institutionalize that disvalue, making it harder for women to advance in the company as a whole by diminishing and containing our presence within it.

Again, this totally misses the point. Men would not do this to give women a safe space, but to keep themselves safe. This shows the author’s utter inability to put herself in another’s shoes.

Listen. I know it’s a headache trying to find ways to change the way you do business. I know it’s frustrating trying to figure out how to solve problems you were barely conscious of before the beginning of October. And it’s even easier to look at women making all this noise and fuss and see a potential lawsuit waiting to happen. And it’s the easiest of all to throw up your hands and say “well, that’s not a problem I want to deal with.”

Well, being a man who does not harass women, I can honestly say that this is not a problem I want to deal with. It’s more than a headache for most men; it is our livelihood. And the behavioral adaptations you are rightly concerned about are changes to the way men do business. Men revel in solving problems. If you create a problem (e.g. the possibility of being fired due to a false allegation), don’t be surprised when men solve it. If you don’t like what they are doing, help find a better solution.

But beyond being right, it’s worth it. Women as a demographic are highly educated and highly skilled; we are advancing in STEM fields, and businesses that take their female employees seriously and promote them to leadership outperform those that don’t. You have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking their concerns seriously and doing the hard work of reform instead of looking for a quick and easy fix: a smarter, harder-working, more productive, and more innovative workforce that’s generating real value for you and your clients rather than a team that’s spending half their mental energy protecting themselves from abuse.

Men as a whole aren’t abusers. We aren’t looking for a quick fix. Behavioral changes like cancelling Christmas parties and one-on-one mentoring sessions are simple risk mitigation. If you don’t want this to happen, help mitigate the risk in another way. Like women, men don’t want to spend mental energy protecting themselves from abuse. They will take action to remove themselves from situations where they can potentially be abused. Is that really so surprising?

All in all, it really feels like a win-win.

Men withdrawing from social events, refusing to mentor women one-on-one, and potentially hesitating to hire a woman even if she’s the best candidate or removing themselves to startups that they can keep small enough to avoid the problem of false allegations seems like a lose-lose to me.

So please, as we move forward into this brave new world, take the words of Abigail Adams seriously and “consider the ladies;” our contributions will do more for your company than our silence ever could.

Then please consider the men, and make sure that men don’t come to think that the risk of working with women outweighs the contributions they make. It is sad watching the progress women have made unravel before our eyes. Make sure that you don’t throw out the entire barrel due to a few bad apples. Otherwise, you may find that you aren’t welcome in the orchard.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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7 Responses to Stoking the Backlash Against #metoo

  1. mikekto says:

    I am almost 49 years old and I never had a woman complain she was sexually harassed at work. Two of my female workers though did exactly that. One asked me to have sex with her and the other kept on hitting on me for a month. Not that I am complaining but it’s not proper to this at work especially when both of these women had a male partner.
    I am so pissed lately, I can honestly say that now I really women. I will not open doors for women, or help them change their tires. I will not talk to a woman unless it’s absolute necessary, which is rare because I do online banking. When I shop at the grocery store I use the self check out. I can’t wait until technologies like amazon go where you don’t even need a cashier.
    I am really tired of this crap. Dealing 31 years of feminism crap. I have zero respect for women too. Women can fuck off is all I care. They lie about rape, lie about getting sexually harassed, they lie about the wage gap.

  2. WOW, I really like you openly offered a male perspective on this in a thoughtful way. I blogged about this issue myself:

    • jimbelton says:

      Thanks for your comment. This is a tough subject. I honestly hope that the movement does a lot of good, and that any negative impacts are worth it. You can see from mikekto’s comment (and hundreds like it on almost every youtube video on the subject) that there are people who are very upset. I suspect that they are not a small minority.

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